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Why Bats Are Ecological Superheroes

Bats are sometimes feared and greatly misunderstood. They’ve been particularly vilified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are falsely pushing the narrative that bats, and the sale of bats and other animals in wet markets, are to blame for the outbreak. We now have proof that’s simply not true. For more information, be sure to check out tomorrow’s interview with virologist and molecular biologist Jonathan Latham, Ph.D. 

In that interview, he presents evidence showing SARS-CoV-2 is highly unlikely to have a natural origin, and stresses that we must not blame the wildlife trade. It’s merely a ruse to cover up compelling evidence showing it’s a lab-created virus that somehow escaped the confines of the laboratory. 

So, please, leave bats alone, both figuratively and literally. Avoid them, don’t eat them, don’t hold them — and let scientists know we do not want them to harvest them for culturing and manufacturing new viruses. 

What many people don't realize is that bats serve an important purpose, both to humans and the environment. Bats are ecological superheroes that pollinate many of our favorite foods. They also feed on agricultural pests that damage food crops, saving farmers hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars each year.

The featured film, "Growing a Greener World: Bats — Unsung Heroes," explores the benefits bats have on our environment, their role in food production, and what some scientists are doing to protect this important species.

The film starts out in San Antonio, Texas, at Bracken Cave, a major tourist attraction that is home to the world's largest bat colony. The cave provides shelter for about 15 to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, according to the film. Each night at sunset during the warmer months, the bats gracefully fly out of the cave in masses to begin their nightly hunt.

Bracken Cave was purchased by Bat Conservation International (BCI) in 1991. It now owns nearly 1,500 acres of former ranchland surrounding the cave, which is in the process of being restored to its natural state.

The land lost some of its original plant and animal diversity when it was being utilized for other purposes such as ranching. But thanks to the conservation work done by BCI, the area is now also home to many bird species, including endangered golden-cheeked warblers.1

Bats Are the Only True Flying Mammal

In the film, Fran Hutchins, director of Bracken Cave Preserve, reveals that bats are the only true flying mammal. Mexican free-tailed bats weigh just half an ounce, or the equivalent of holding 50 cents in your hand, says Hutchins.

Despite being in the same genetic class as humans, bats are often lumped in with animals like snakes and sharks, some of the creatures we fear the most. But once you start to take a closer look at bats and their unique habits, it's clear there is nothing to fear about these beneficial animals.

There are many fun facts about bats you may not know. For example, despite what you may have heard, bats are not blind. They can see very well. They also have excellent flying abilities and an impressive range of motion.

Bats can fly up to 50 to 60 miles per hour, and travel distances of up to 30 to 50 miles in radius before returning back to their home. Bats are more maneuverable than birds. They use a combination of echolocation and sense receptors that allow them to easily navigate through the night sky.

Their echolocation abilities work by emitting a sound out of their mouth, which bounces off an object. When it returns, it is received and processed by their ears and other facial features. This echolocation technique is what helps bats hunt for food.

Bats emit sounds slowly and repetitively, as they navigate through the environment. However, when bats home in on an insect, the sound increases in frequency right up until they reach their prey. They then use their wings to snatch up the insect before eating it.

Without Bats, We Wouldn't Have Tequila

Bats as a species are incredibly diverse. There are an estimated 1,400 species of bats worldwide. They live on various parts of the planet and range in size. For example, the Kitti's hog-nosed bat, also called the Bumblebee Bat, weighs less than a penny, making it the world's smallest mammal next to the flying fox, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.2

While bats are expert hunters, they are also important pollinators. Just like birds, butterflies and bees, bats pollinate many important food crops, but because they do so at night under the cover of darkness, they don't get as much recognition.

More than 300 species of food-producing plants depend on bats for pollination. Some of these include guavasbananas, mangos, figs, dates, cashews and peaches. Bats also pollinate other flowering plants including agave, the key ingredient in tequila.

Without bats, we would not have tequila. Bats are the main pollinator of agave, which blooms at night in Desert Southwest, according to the film. Agave plants are a major food source for bats. Unfortunately, in an effort to maximize profits, some big-time tequila producers are cutting down agave stalks before they have a chance to flower.

This is a big problem for bats. Luckily, some producers are being a little more responsible in the way they grow agave and produce tequila. They are allowing some of the agave plants to flower so that bats have a food source along their migratory pathway.

Some sustainable tequila producers have even branded their products "bat-friendly." Bat-friendly tequila can be found at various specialty bars and restaurants around the U.S., including San Antonio's Esquire Tavern, which serves a spicy cocktail called the "Batman of Mexico." It's made with Tequila Ocho, which can be found at some U.S. liquor stores for about $45 a bottle.3

Pre-order Ronnie's New Book, Coming February 11

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